Published: Sun, June 10, 2018
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

In male dolphin alliances, 'everybody knows your name'

In male dolphin alliances, 'everybody knows your name'

Scientists from The University of Western Australia, University of Zurich and the University of MA, studied 17 well-known adult male dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia, where males are known for their formation of alliances. Additionally, several of these male duos or trios will sometimes form larger, second-level alliances-some of which can last their lifetimes. They compared vocalizations from different alliances and found that males in an alliance retain vocal labels that are quite distinct from one another.

The researchers also found that since the dolphins did not share a call sign, they used other means to strengthen relationships.

Male dolphins use "names" to identify their friends and rivals, Australian researchers have discovered.

"Convergence onto shared or similar identity signals has been documented in allied male bottlenose dolphins", the study said. They discovered that male dolphins, despite their strong social bonds, retain their individual whistles to identify their partners and competitors, and that these do not become adapted to each other over time.

"However with male bottlenose dolphins, it's the opposite - each male retains a unique call, even though they develop incredibly strong bonds with one another". "Therefore, retaining individual "names" is more important than sharing calls for male dolphins, allowing them to keep track of or maintain a fascinating social network of cooperative relationships".

Dolphins are intelligent creatures that communicate with high-frequency whistles and are capable of forming strong relationships.

Signature whistles of two different male dolphins from Shark Bay, Western Australia. It's not clear if this behavior is restricted only to bottlenose dolphins. This way they're able to negotiate a complex social network of cooperative relationships.

King and her colleagues now intend to study the dolphin interpersonal relationships even more closely.

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To explore the role of these "vocal signals", the team measured the similarity of the signals between and out of alliances of male dolphins.

So how do these males keep track of all these different relationships, and how do they maintain such strong social bonds?

She found that dolphins responded to recordings of their own signature whistle, but not those of other dolphins.

She said the next step would be to study the males' relationships with one another to understand the politics of dolphin alliances and if they were equal or not.

Researchers also observed dolphins using physical contact and synchronised behaviour to reinforce social bonds.

Dr King said: "We wanted to understand if allied male dolphins converged onto similar calls as a way of advertising their alliance membership, or whether they retained individual vocal labels".

The corresponding author on the study Stephanie King says that synchrony has been linked with oxytocin release in humans.

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